The state has detected high levels of a carcinogenic heavy metal at a West Islip Superfudn site, four years after a cleanup of the area. Credit: Jeff Bacher

Four years after cleaning up waste at a Superfund site in West Islip, the state again has detected high levels of a carcinogenic heavy metal in the area — kicking off a blame game among stakeholders in the area that includes outraged residents. 

Increased levels of cadmium were found on and around the former Dzus Fastener Co. site on Union Boulevard and in the sediment and surface water of nearby Willetts Creek, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said in a public notice last month.

Since the 1980s, the state and federal governments along with past owners of the property have invested a total of $35 million in remediating the property, according to the DEC.

The agency announced in mid-2022 that pollution from the site that had affected Willetts Creek and nearby Lake Capri also had been eliminated after an initial cleanup was completed at the Superfund site in 2020.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The state again has detected high levels of a carcinogenic heavy metal in West Islip by a former factory.
  • Since the 1980s, $35 million has been invested in remediating the property.
  • State officials will hold a virtual community meeting Wednesday.

Source: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

From 1937 to 2015, the property housed a factory that produced fasteners and springs.

The DEC has blamed Smithtown-based commercial real estate agency Island Associates, whose managing director said he has an ownership stake in the property, for the renewed contamination at the site.

The agency said in last month's public notice the company removed an asphalt cap sometime before April 2021 that was meant to contain contaminants. 

At the same time, the company's managing director said he paid for a new cap and has invested millions in the property.

A shopping center is under construction here at the former...

A shopping center is under construction here at the former Dzus Fastener Co. factory site in West Islip, according to Town of Islip documents. The location is a Superfund site where state officials said they've again detected high levels of a carcinogenic heavy metal. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Others who include Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment, are criticizing the DEC for not notifying the public earlier about the problem. Esposito wrote in an April letter to the DEC the nonprofit is “deeply disturbed” the DEC waited three years to release a public notification that the cap had been removed.

“This is the second time the cap has failed to contain the contamination,” Esposito wrote in a follow-up to a 2018 letter from the nonprofit that criticized the remediation method. “Complete removal of all contaminated sediment is the only solution that protects the community long-term.”

'Cancer-causing agent'

The DEC said in response to a Newsday inquiry while the agency has known for three years that the cap was removed, it released a notice to the public “as soon as it was determined that there are persistent increased levels of cadmium.” 

The agency added that it “recognizes the importance of keeping the community updated.” West Islip drinking water is safe, the DEC emphasized, and “no immediate health effects” are expected from exposure. 

Cadmium is considered a “cancer-causing agent,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and low levels of exposure from contaminated air, food, water or smoke over time can cause kidney disease and fragile bones.

Some West Islip residents said they are angry about the continued contamination, especially at Willetts Creek, which runs near West Islip High School and Beach Street Middle School. The district has pulled back science programs that had incorporated the creek into the curriculum, according to the school superintendent.

Deborah Chaleff, 49, who lives about a 10-minute walk from the former factory, said the DEC, the New York State Department of Health and Islip Town “dropped the ball.” 

She added: “Why wasn’t there better communication between all of these entities to make sure that everything was done in a safe way?” 

State health officials released a statement to Newsday that said they're “committed to protecting public health” and will work with the DEC “to review and analyze data regarding potential contaminants, including cadmium, in the area.”

A Town of Islip spokeswoman declined to comment.

Longtime West Islip resident Maureen Murphy, 44, an employee of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the DEC should have been transparent from the beginning and the full source of contamination should have been removed instead of use of a cap.

“These are serious toxins that are abutting a high school,” said Murphy, who is raising her two children in the hamlet, of the contamination.

Civil penalty sought

The DEC said it is seeking a $375,000 civil penalty against the property owner for removing the asphalt cap and for the company to cover the cost of a new cleanup. Island Associates has “repeatedly refused to comply” with its requests, according to the agency's public notice.

But the agency also said that after it issued two notices of violation to Island Associates, the company installed a temporary asphalt cap in October 2022 and a new permanent cap in February 2024.

Roger Delisle, managing director at Island Associates, said in an interview that he paid for a new permanent cap that was installed in February. He also said that while redeveloping the property, he’s worked with the DEC and outside environmental consultants on ongoing remediation efforts.

Delisle said he is a partner in 425 Union Blvd Associates LLC, which owns the property, and that Island Associates is a leasing company with no ownership of the site. He added that he has invested about $8 million into rehabilitating the property between environmental remediation and renovations.

“If the DEC knew this was so volatile, why didn’t they do the job right the first time?” he said.

Delisle added said that, as a lifetime resident of the area, he'd never “do anything disingenuous” when it comes to the environment.

The DEC and DOH plan to put together a plan this spring aimed at preventing contaminated groundwater from continuing to reach Willetts Creek. State officials will release the plan for public comment this summer and expect to implement it in the fall, according to the DEC's public notice. 

The DEC plans to hold a virtual community meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, with a presentation followed by a question-and-answer session.

The DEC and DOH have recommended that people avoid wading or digging in Willetts Creek and don't eat fish caught in Lake Capri.

Nearby residents also should wash their hands after working or playing outside, use doormats and periodically mop floors to reduce potential exposure to contaminated sediment, according to state officials.

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